Making Sense of March

April 09, 2006

What the indexes (and ETFs) tell us about where the market has been, and where it's going.

One of the great joys of this job is that people send you information ... and lots of it. If you are a data fan, as I am, your cup runneth over.  I get research reports from the big indexing firms, product literature from exchange-traded fund (ETF) providers, and fund flow analyses from leading investment banks.

These reports trickle in all the time, but they turn into a flood at month-end.  While each is intersting seperately, taken together, the data points can really help make sense of what's going on in the markets.

Here's what I learned in March.

Everything's Working Except Large-Cap Growth

Sometimes it feels like the market will never move past the highs set during the Internet bubble.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average can't poke its head above 11,500, let alone 12,000; the S&P 500 hovers some 15 percent below its 2000 peak; and the NASDAQ Composite … fughedaboutit. 

 But if you broaden your vision a little bit, the index malaise quickly disappears.

Consider the press release from Russell indexes that I received last week. According to Russell, three of its four major indexes were trading at all-time highs. As of Wednesday, April 5, the Russell 2000 Growth, Russell 2000 Value and Russell 1000 Value were all at new peaks; the only laggard was the Russell 1000 Growth Index, which remains well off its 2000-era highs.  In other words, if you are one of those indexers who tilt towards small/value, things have never been better.  (The Russell Microcap Index is also trading at all-time highs, although its real history only stretches back a year or so).

The same is true at S&P, by the way, with the S&P 500 Growth Index the only laggard in the bunch.  The S&P MidCap 400 has almost doubled since the peak of the Internet boom in 2000 ... a fact which I find simply incredible.  This has been the untold bull market of the new Millennium.

But the mid-caps aren't alone.  The list of broad-market indexes trading at or near all-time highs is a long one: the New York Composite, the Amex Composite, the S&P 500 Equal-Weight Index, the MSCI EAFE Index and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, among others.  Even the Dow Jones Transportation Index is close.  So cheer up!

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